You have to include Eichmann and O.J. – no collection of this type would be complete without them. Then there’s the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, again a pretty much obligatory inclusion.
But equally fascinating, to this reader, is Joel Siedemann’s choice of Karen Silkwood’s family’s posthumous suit on her behalf, and the sad but ultimately triumphant story of “A Mother’s Nightmare,” the case of a child neglected in the first few days of life who became a palsied retarded victim in perpetuity. “Augustin Ballinas won a verdict of 107 million, the second-highest in the history of New York State.” His lawyer, one Thomas Moore, according to Siedemann, “did it all,” hammering in the facts while eliciting the natural sympathy of the jury for the child and his mother, who “carried that sacred life through those months of gestation flawlessly, lovingly, selflessly.”
Siedemann makes it his task to point out the strengths - and the flaws - in the lawyer’s presentations. Three cases involved men defending themselves (notably James Traficant and Zacarias Moussaoui), illustrating cogently the saying that “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
How we decide the fate of a legal battle, as jury or judge, says much about who we are as a culture. Why did Bernard Goetz, described as “an emotional powder keg,” get away with gunning down innocents on a subway, while Colin Ferguson, in a similar incident, did not? How did Martha Stewart become the poster girl for securities fraud when so many others have done it and gotten away? And don’t even talk to me about Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes.
It seems that the law is a slippery thing, useful to some and a source of terrible frustration to others. O.J. undoubtedly feels justified by the verdict he received while millions of other Americans choked on their orange juice when they heard it. Timothy McVeigh considered himself a patriot yet was condemned by a patriotic jury of his peers. John Scopes, who was undoubtedly guilty of teaching evolution in the classroom, was a mere spectator in the titanic struggle between two eloquent orators; his was a “show trial” in the best sense of that term.
Anyone who reads this will have a favorite trial, favorite victim or miscreant whose story he will turn to at once. Siedemann, professor and assistant DA, has concocted a meal of delicious courtroom crime in easily disgestible style with his own relevant observations providing the spice.